A week later.
Tom paused in the doorway, taking time to remove his coat and hat. He'd been out ridng each morning to get a lay of the land. There was enough room to expand, addding additional out buildings and barns. It was a fine idea that would provide the Valley wth skilled workers for decades. But it was a large project and would take time, for the State to investigate, provide recommendations and set those to fruition. He intended to be on the board and had a list of ranchers and lumbermen in the area to add to that panel.
He went towards the kitchen to warm up some coffee and paused by the study, where the door was ajar. A burst of laughter brought a smile, the triple cascade of voices that mixed to form a new and unique timbre warmed his heart. Jarrod, Nick and Heath, his sons complimented each other in so many ways. And in ways they were not aware of yet but would discover and build upon over the years to come. The face of his youngest son appeared in his mind as he entered the kitchen.
His hand moved next to the coffee pot and felt it's warmth. He grabbed mug and poured a cup and thought on the newest Barkley. Heath had not given any indication this week of what choice he'd made. And Tom had not pressured him. The conversations between them were often with the others and pleasant enough. But between them, at arm's length. Heath was guarded, and he didn't blame him. He'd been without a family for many years, and inheriting a large one and the responsibiility that came with it was a lot to digest.
"Well, son," Doctor Moore watched the young man buttoning a cream colored flannel shirt. "You have come a long way this week. That leg should't be rushed ,the infection is almost gone. You keep it clean, like I showed you."
"Yessir," Cody answered, not wanting to revisit the list of what could happned to his leg if the infection returned. "I'll make sure it's clean, bandaged, just like you said. He bent over to put his boots on and it wasn't easy. His side hurt and the effort made him a bit dizzy. He saw the tweed encased legs approaching and put a hand up. "I'm good. I gotta do this myself."
"Alright, but I meant what I said, Cody." He paused and eyed the pale face. He looiked a lot better, due to good food, lots of rest and some fresh air. But he had a long way to go, replacing the blood he'd lost. "You are still a good month away from resuming your ranchwork. You've done fine this week, but I guarantee by the time you get to Mercy Junction, you'll feel it. You won't be leaving your room for a couple of days."
Cody stood up, moved to the corner where his gunbelt and coat were. The doctor was going back to Auburn and he was going to accompany him. Matt sent a courier from the town to bring the boat up and he'd ride with that man to Mercy Junction. The courier would return the boat here later in the week, to pick up the others.
The doctor waited until the buckskin jacket was back where it belonged and held the door for the younger man. He stayed beside him on the way down the stairs, glad the tracker was going slow and holding on tight to the railing.
"My bags are already outside. I'm going to grab a bite to eat first."
"Okay, Doc, take your time. It'll be an hour or so until I meet you at the boat."
As the other man turned and made his way to the eatery, Cody moved to the study and pushed the door open abit more. He caught Heath's eye and the blond nodded and rose up.
"Ya look better already," Heath teased of the famliar hide jacket.
"Yeah." Cody nodded and met the sky eyes so like his father's. "You sure about this?"
"Yup." Heath turned his head and through the open door, watched his brother's profiles as they played chess. He thought on the conversation he'd had with Wells the night before. "It's time. It's not outta ya'r way?"
"Nah," Cody denied, "Your mama's...uh...the cabin ain't so far from here...from the boat. There's a back road, and I gave you my word."
"That you did," Heath answered with a crooked smile. Somehow he knew it wouldn't be the flast time that would hit home for him.
Cody eyed the corridor that led to the kitchen. "I'll update the boss and meet you outback":
Heath nodded and walked to the room on the other side of the hall, where his coat had been waiting. He shucked it on and went back into the study, which caused a pregnant pause in the game at hand.
Tom saw Cody eyeing him from the hallway and left the doctor to finish his meal.
"You all set?"
"Yessir," Cody answered, "Heath's coming with me." He saw something in the pale eyes that was a rare as a two-headed piece of silver. Fear. There was no mistaking it and it was legitimate. "He's uh...telling Nick and Jarrod."
"I knew this day would come but..." Tom broke it off then. The thought of losing his youingest son before he'd gotten the chance to know him creating a hole inside. His hand moved over his abdomen as if to quell the waving nerves rising up.
"Not an easy ride for him," Cody said, then thought on the events and conversations of the last week. Being a tracker and an experience over the years had given him a good sense of people. It was a requirement for his job when a life was often on the line. "For what's worth, I think his heart is already a Barkley, his head just hasn't come to grips with it yet." His lips curled up then, and he cast some bait. "You'll be setting an extra plate at the table for the long run" He nodded secure in his decision. "Bet on it."
Tom eyed the younger man sharpley and felt some of the doubts die off inside. Cody was as good a character study as any man he knew. Those hunches, what is 'gut' told him had saved their lives too mny times to count. He laid a hand on the hide encased shoulder and gripped it. "I hope so, Cody...I can't envision my life now without him. The would be a grievious wound...I have so much lost time to make up for."
"So does he, boss," Cody answered and thought again. "I'm takin' him to the cabin first, where his mama's things are."
" Oh..." Tom nodded, trying to imagine how violated his son must have felt and how much turmoil what those things now represented would cause. He was a part of the reason for the anxiety and there would be questions that were simmering inside. He wanted to be there, to support the hurt, quell the rage and give both hands and a willing heart to help heal that throbbing wound inside. But he didn't feel intruding was the right thing to do. He sighed and sought solace in the hope the new day brought.